By Lauren Stearns
Last year when my son entered 7th grade it seemed like EVERYTHING changed.
The connection that I had worked so hard to build with him using Hand in Hand tools felt broken. I couldn’t tell if it was him or it was me, but all we seemed to do was lock horns.
He was surly and grouchy and I fell back into punishing him by disapproving of his behavior and taking away his phone, TV time and friends.The only “tools” that I could seem to remember were control and consequences, not very Hand in Hand at all! We communicated by yelling and snapping and I hated it. I felt so ashamed of my behavior and of not feeling abIe to reconnect.
Although life was very busy, I did my best to continue to share my feelings with another understanding parent, and in one particular Listening Partnership session I was able to make a huge shift. This time I finally let myself fall apart and say the one thing that I had never before let myself say….. I hate my kids.
Now, of course, I don’t hate my kids.
Listening Partners know that. They know that what we hate is the loneliness, the struggle. They know we hate the heaping pile of old hurts from our own childhood that all come bubbling to the surface each time our children enters a new phase of development. Listening Partners hold strong that you are good. They know how very much we love our children.
They also know that the best way to heal these old hurts is a good old-fashioned tantrum, and this time I went for it. I said all the things that I thought I ‘shouldn’t' say about hating my kids.
I went on and on and on alternating between laughing at the outrageousness of my words and sobbing at the absolute heartbreak.
As I spoke, cried, ranted, all the times that I felt disapproved of and berated as a teenager rose up in front of me.
When the Listening Time ended I didn't feel as though I had one thing figured out, but I felt better, and over the next few days a dramatic shift happened in my home.
After I had offloaded my feelings so fully, I was able to remember and act on a Hand in Hand suggestion that we be ‘quietly delighted' in our children. I was finally able to stop my attempts at control and consequences and rely on this new-found delight, and much to my surprise, EVERYTHING changed.
Although it wasn't explicitly said during my Listening Time, I felt as if I had been given permission to genuinely LIKE my young teen son. Being pleased with teenagers had not been modelled for me as a young person. I regained my warmth, humor, and compassion for how hard it is to be a teen and my resolve to keep reaching for him.
I can’t tell if my son actually changed, or if I just stopped reacting negatively to him. I was able to reinterpret his “grouchiness” as a cry for connection, as an attempt to offload difficult feelings, and peace quickly settled into our relationship. It seemed as if he immediately began basking in my warm approval. He was noticeably less grumpy, and has since started telling me often how much he loves me.
So although I can't say I feel happy to have said those words, I am happy I had the courage to say them, and I am happy to have had the warm, non-judgmental ear of my listening partner. Without it, I may never have dared.
Read Who is Listening To You Over the Holidays for more on why parents need and should be off-loading their feelings
From Yelling to Connecting describes the powerful change that listening partnerships brings to parenting
Listening Partnerships are part of Hand in Hand's Five Revolutionary Tools that make parenting less stressful.